Send Someone Else!

by Lois Tverberg

Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
– Exodus 4:10-12

When God first appeared to Moses and told him to go to Pharaoh, Moses had the chutzpah to say to God, “Please send someone else!” We are amazed at Moses’ repeated refusal to do what God asked. How could that be?

The text says that Moses doubted his own abilities. Perhaps he was thinking that God was asking Moses Burning Bushhim to somehow go convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery all on his own. What an impossibility that a stuttering 80-year old shepherd could do such a thing! Perhaps he imagined that God was telling him to raise up a rebellion who could demand release from Pharaoh. In his younger days when he was passionate for justice, maybe he could have done it, but not now. Surely God couldn’t use him.
Maybe part of Moses’ response was because he had forgotten his people’s sufferings, feeling that he had left his people behind when he fled to the desert forty years ago. When he was a younger man, his anger at his people’s misery caused him to kill, but maybe now he felt differently after finding a peaceful life in another land. Wasn’t their bondage someone else’s problem? Certainly someone should do something about it, but why should he be the one to take on such a difficult, dangerous mission?

Or, perhaps he doubted God. No one had heard anything from this God in four hundred years, and in Egypt, Moses learned that there were many small gods that shared power with others. How could this one defeat the many gods that ruled over Egypt, who had made it a super-power of the ancient world? This god was unknown – only the private god of his family, not of a mighty nation. God certainly was no match for the powers of Egypt.

Whenever any of us feel God is calling us to serve him, these are all typical human responses – either to doubt ourselves or how much God will help us, or how much God is even capable of doing. And we might even secretly say to ourselves, “Yes, someone needs to do something, but why should it be me?” We can learn a lesson from knowing that despite Moses’ doubts in himself and in God, God refused to change his mind about using him. We can all be encouraged that God never gives up on us. With our willingness, God will not fail at all that he has appointed us to do.

Photocred: Nheyob

A Bridegroom of Blood

by Lois Tverberg

But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched [Moses’] feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) – Exodus 4:25-26

One of the strangest stories in the Bible is when Moses and his wife and son return to Egypt after God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go. The original Hebrew text is difficult to interpret, and it is not clear whether Moses’ life or his son’s life was in danger, and who was touched with the blood. Commentators believe that this may have been part of a longer story handed down orally that the ancient audience was assumed to know.

A few keys can help us see the point of the story, though. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, the visible mark of the commitment between the people of Israel and God. God seems to require this sign before fulfilling covenantal promises. With Abraham, even though God appeared to him years before he was called to circumcise his family, it was only after he did so that Sarah became pregnant with Isaac, the promised son. Similarly, God had called Moses at the bush, but now before God can use him to fulfill his covenant, he must come under the covenant himself.

A new understanding of the word translated “bridegroom” also clarifies the passage. In Hebrew, the word hatan commonly means “bridegroom.” But in Akkadian and Arabic, two closely-related languages to Hebrew, the word means “protected” or “circumcised.” This passage may have been using a less common definition of hatan, so Zipporah would have said “You are protected by blood,” instead of “a bridegroom of blood.” (1)

The surrounding text also gives some insight. Immediately before this story are the words that God gave Moses for Pharaoh: “Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.” (Ex. 4:22-23) This is a prophecy of the coming of the plague of the death of the firstborn that will allow the Israelites to go free. The Israelites were protected from judgment by the blood of the lamb daubed on their doorposts. This story seems to be a foreshadowing of that event, showing that Moses’ own son was protected by blood as well. The word for “touched” is the same as that used for daubing the blood of the lambs on the doorposts, suggesting that this is the case.

All this points to the idea that in ancient ways of thinking, God was communicating that salvation from judgment only comes from being protected by blood. Through this strange story, we can see into the future, to the need for the shedding of the blood of Jesus as well.

(1) Sarna, N., The JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus, Jewish Publication Society, 1991, p. 26.